August 10th – Vienna to Prague
Our train ride to Prague was one of those where reservations were “optional.” This means that you can either pay to get a reserved seat or just try to be first on the train to get one of the unreserved seats. The system sounds nice – be spontaneous, save a few bucks – but the reality ends up being a mad dash by the unreserved masses for the few available seats left on the train. You still get to ride if you don’t get a seat, but you might be sitting on the floor in the baggage area. We worked our way through several cars before jumping into some open seats. We made it one stop before another lady got on and said that Steve was in her seat. He got up and found another one, but this process of people getting on and kicking people out of their reserved seats continued for the nearly five hour trip to Prague.
From the train station it was only a 10-15 minute walk to the apartment. After the cleanliness of Vienna, there was a noticeable difference in Prague. Things were dirtier and a little more run down. The people were sketchier and there were far more “characters” (e.g. drunken bums) roaming around. But it’s the characters that make a place interesting, right?
Just before 2pm we arrived at the gate and were met by a young guy who spoke little English, but let us into the apartment. This was one of the biggest places we’d had all summer, so we got to spread out, do some cooking and laundry for a couple days. Sleeping was cut short by a construction crew getting started by 8:00am every day, but all in all it wasn’t a bad place.
That first night we went wild. What else can you do in Prague? We went to a club, got wasted, and emerged a sweaty mess when the sun came up.
Obviously that’s not true. We went to a grocery store to stock up on things, went back out later, picked up Chinese food, and ate in the apartment. Party – Jenny and Steve style.
August 11th – Wandering around the old country
Well rested and fueled by a breakfast of leftover Chinese food, we set off to explore the town. We went up our street a short way into Wenceslas Square. Set between the old town and new town, the square is full of huts selling trinkets and Czech fair food to the crowds. From there, we headed toward the astronomical clock.
Every hour, crowds gather to watch the figures around the clock come to life. The skeleton rings a bell, other characters move around. It’s actually not that exciting, but the clock is complicated enough to be an oddity worth catching while in the area.
We made our way to the Charles bridge. You can find beautiful pictures of the Charles bridge in the morning fog, lined rows of black sculptures. During the day, it is full of people and street performers.
If you follow the hills up the other side of the river, you’ll slowly approach the Prague Castle. We stopped into a bar claiming to be the oldest medieval bar in the country, serving beer daily since 1300 something. They made their own dark and light beers that were extremely heavy, but it was a nice stopping point as we made our way up the hill.
The Prague Castle itself isn’t a single building, but a walled complex full of structures. The entrances are still guarded by soldiers, but you can freely enter and walk around (or take a paid tour of some of the buildings if you’d like). The “don’t miss” church inside the castle is St. Vitus, a gothic cathedral founded in 1344.
From the height of the castle, you can get some great views of the surrounding city.
We left the castle and made our way back to Wenceslas Square where we ate some sausage and ham that was being smoked. We also got some sort of ringed donut thing that was covered in sugar and deliciousness.
That evening we went back to the square to check out the Ambassador Casino. We’d seen signs for casinos all over the place, but this one seemed to be central and easy to get to, so we figured – why not? Well the casinos in Prague aren’t what we typical-Americans thing of as a casino. After going up some stairs and getting our IDs checked at a door, we were buzzed into a single room that had maybe four poker tables, one blackjack table, a couple of roulette tables, and 15 or so slot machines – half of which seemed to be broken. Through the thick cloud of lingering cigarette smoke we found our way to a blackjack table where Steve sat down for a while. Needless to say, this was no Vegas.
We spent most of the day inside catching up on writing and work. When we did venture out, it was only for a short while to walk around. Neither of us had anything that we really cared to do, so we took it easy, made dinner at the apartment, and got ready for Berlin the next day.